Attorney to students: 'Take your opportunities as they come'

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Primarily because of the global reach of the auto companies, Detroit is an excellent place for a law student who hopes to work in international law.

Silvia Kleer, an attorney for Ford Motor Co., spoke to students and faculty at Wayne State University Law School about what it's like to work in the Global Trade and Transactions Group of the Office of the General Counsel of the company and how students might steer their careers in the same direction.

"We're very lucky here in Detroit to have auto manufacturers that do so much international work, and also a large supplier base," said Kleer. "Those suppliers are just as international as the auto companies."

Kleer also said that Ford's integrated business structure meant that its attorneys are more than just counsel on problems that have already occurred.

"I find it very rewarding at Ford to be part of the business team and be involved in both planning and decisions," she said. "Pretty much the cutting edge of every legal issue that arises can be found at an international company like Ford."

The lecture, presented on Tuesday, Feb. 16, was sponsored by the law school's Program for International Legal Studies. Professor Gregory Fox, director of the program, introduced Kleer.

Kleer, Wayne Law class of 1995, focuses on export distribution and regulatory compliance at Ford. She has also worked on consumer and commercial finance issues for Ford Motor Credit. Before joining Ford, she worked for the Office of General Counsel at Chrysler Financial.

Citing her varied path to her present position, Kleer urged the students not to be too narrow in their initial career decisions.

"Don't limit yourself by thinking that you'll go straight to your career destination," she said. "You have to take your opportunities as they come."

While at Wayne Law, Kleer was senior articles editor of the Wayne Law Review and president of the International Law Society. She also studied at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Aix-en-Provence, France. Kleer was born in Argentina and is fluent in Spanish and French.

"I was interested in international law as a law student, and I've been fortunate to ultimately practice in that area," said Kleer.

Kleer drew a distinction for the audience between inside and outside counsel at a big corporation and expressed a definite preference for an inside role like hers.

"Inside counsel means you're working for a company, rather than outside counsel, who typically works for a law firm," she said. "I would advocate very strongly for the advantages of being an inside counsel. You really have the opportunity to be part of the business team. At Ford, the Office of the General Counsel is highly integrated with the business operation. We are part of decision making from the beginning of the process. That makes your job so much better in significant ways. For example, you help develop strategy and become tied to the goals of the business."

The company's legal offices are scattered across the globe to accommodate Ford's international presence and are usually staffed by both local attorneys and attorneys from the company's headquarters, usually on a three year rotation.

"As companies globalize, you have to develop local talent," Kleer said. "Then you have to train those lawyers and bring them together. We have a program where we bring our foreign lawyers into the office for an orientation."

Kleer was encouraging on the subject of following in her footsteps, pointing out that there is a distinct pipeline from Wayne Law to Ford's Office of the General Counsel.

"In recent years, Ford has reinstituted its summer intern program and we do recruit from Wayne State University Law School. That's the main way we hire into the OGC now."

Published: Tue, Feb 23, 2016